Computers Are Stealing Your Jobs

Nobody bowls alone in my town unless they just want to sit in their living room binge-watching HBO series, chain-smoking, and passing twenty bucks to the pizza delivery guy on a Friday night. Not that I’m judging. That’s Alternative Universe Laura.

In fact, I do take advantage of many social functions in the town. I’m in a running club and a special needs parent group. I’ll probably start taking classes at the art school soon, though I’m holding the line on excessively time-consuming civic mindedness and refusing to run for political office.

Our school district offers frequent talks to the parents and people in the community on various topics. I go to them all. It’s work-related. I like to know what educators think are the hot topics. It’s funny. It’s totally different from what the education writers in the major new outlets think is important. It’s different worlds.

A popular theme in many of these talks is: “OMG, the computers are stealing all the jobs and our children are screwed.”

I’m not joking. I went to one talk last month, where the presenter showed a slide of his three-year old in a backpack and said something like, “This is my son. What am I going to telling him?! What kind of a job will he ever have?! [Long pause. Sniff.]”

Then he showed a YouTube video of a tree harvester (what is the right word?) in Oregon who was replacing his lumberjacks with robots, which he though would save lives and save him a lot of money. Next was a YouTube video of some random talking head on a cable news show, who said the computers were going to replace journalists.

WE’RE ALL GOING TO BE HOMELESS PEOPLE UNDER THE BRIDGE AND THE COMPUTERS ARE GOING TO HUNT US DOWN

The conclusion of these talks is that we have to teach students to be flexible and adaptable, but pretty much they’re screwed. I don’t understand why the conclusion of those talks isn’t that we should start teach children to code computers in kindergarten. Or another lesson might be that we should teach children to kill and skin their own dinner.

Now, some jobs are just bad these days. I would not recommend that anybody become a journalist or go to graduate school these days. But the problem with journalism isn’t that computers are writing the op-eds for the New York Times. It’s much more complicated, but it’s still not good.

I do think that things are shifting, but not to the dystopian levels that these hysterical school speakers believe. For example, while the career landscape for journalism is really bad, the PR field is thriving. My niece will probably leverage her Instagram and Snapchat skills into a job in corporate communications. She’ll do great.

There are places for writers, just not the traditional ones. Just as there will be work for others with education and good life skills. I think it will take some research to make good choices, but people will figure it out soon.

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6 thoughts on “Computers Are Stealing Your Jobs

  1. I don’t know. Right now Boston is booming in terms of employment. There are lots of jobs computers can’t do. It’s apparently hard to find employees.

    Computers aren’t going to steal our jobs, because there aren’t enough computer programmers to keep them all up and running. And there aren’t enough people who want to work as computer programmers (or could learn to do it.)

    There’s been a steady stream of software and hardware companies that have gone broke over the last 20 years.* It’s not a good investment to replace your employees with computerized robots run on a proprietary platform that could disappear next month.

    *Just yesterday I discovered that Norse went out of business in 2016. Remember Handspring? Jawbone? And then a whole bunch of phone software apps went under. Ziplist, for example.

  2. And remember the peripherals and interface parts will require maintenance and repair. If a drone delivers my groceries, somebody is servicing the drone; it’s not just computer programmers.

  3. A big cultural shift I’ve seen over the past ten years, really since the Great Recession, is a growing acceptance of skilled trades as a viable career path for middle class kids. Partially this seems like a consequence of seeing lots of knowledge work disappear during the recession and feeling like plumbers, carpenters, and masons are hard to replace with robots. It’s also a result of disillusionment with the college system and its costs: no longer is there a sense that going to college is a surefire ticket to a better life. The trades offer some stability (and, this my own theory, pride in work?) than a lot of run of the mill knowledge work jobs at megacorps.

    I think the fears of automation are way overblown. Automation will augment a lot of work but I think the number of jobs that are fully replaced by “robots” will be small.

  4. we’re going to need a lot of therapists to deal with feeling depressed about only dealing with computers…

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